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NL West Preview
By Joe Sheehan
Special to RotoWire
Sheehan is the former co-founder and writer for Baseball Prospectus
who currently writes for Sports Illustrated and Basketball Prospectus.

More division previews by Joe Sheehan:
AL West | AL Central | AL East
NL West | NL Central | NL East


The thing about the NL West is that it never seems to have everyone pulling in the same direction. Something goes wrong for one or two teams every year, even though over a period of years every team but the Giants has played at least one postseason game (cheating a bit in the case of the 2007 Padres). Last year it was the Dodgers and Rockies carrying the water, as the Padres rebuilt, the Giants didn't hit and the Diamondbacks didn't do much of anything. This year, the Dodgers come in as favorites, with everyone but the Padres having some chance of getting back to October.

If I had to pick an All-Star team from one division to play the others, though, I'd take the NL West. Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, Ubaldo Jimenez? I'll fake the other 20 roster spots, thanks. Three of those guys made the 2009 NL All-Star team and it's not at all unlikely that all five will go to Anaheim for this midsummer's classic. As a whole, the division pitches better than it hits, and that's going to get worse before it gets better - the NL West's biggest bat is on his way to greener pastures, in more ways than one.

Arizona Diamondbacks

I Still Believe: Chris Young was supposed to be a player somewhere between Mike Cameron on the low end and Eric Davis on the high end, a combination of speed, power and strikeouts that made All-Star teams and pushed fantasy squads to titles. After the 2007 season, with Young coming off a .237/.295/.267 season with 32 homers and 27/6 SB/CS, I gave Young a contract extension in the RotoWire Staff League that would make him an $18 player through 2010. In the two seasons since, Young has 37 homers and 25 steals total, making him one of the bigger busts in recent years.

Breaking down Young's numbers, it appears that in an attempt to correct his biggest flaws, he lost what made him a good player. In 2007, Young was productive despite struggling to hit anything but fastballs, and showing a vulnerability to pitches outside the strike zone. The combination of a high flyball rate, high strikeout rate and low line-drive rate, along with some misfortune on batted balls, drove his .237 batting average. Over the last two years Young worked to control his lunging, and has cut the frequency with which he swings at pitches out of the strike zone. In doing so, however, he has cut down both his ability to hit pitches in the zone and his productivity when he does make contact. I'm inferring from the data here, but it seems that Young became so conscious of the breaking ball that he lost the ability to jump on fastballs. This improved his walk rate…and did nothing for the rest of his game. Young still struck out a lot, but now he did so on fastballs, and when he wasn't striking out out on them, he was popping them up.

This is reparable. The Diamondbacks and Young have to accept that he's not going to be a .300 hitter, but that he can be a very productive .250 hitter. Turn him loose, preferably in a lineup spot that doesn't require him to be a high-OBP guy, let him stop worrying about his strikeout rate and have him become aggressive about hitting fastballs again. You're not going to get Eric Davis out of him, so accept that he's Mike Cameron and let him get on with his career. There's risk involved in drafting or bidding on Young, but he's one of my top bounceback candidates for '10 and a player you should be targeting in your leagues.

Do Not Want: Mark Reynolds. When he didn't strike out in 2009, Mark Reynolds batted .423 and slugged .885. He won't do that again; more than a quarter of the flyballs Reynolds hit last year went for home runs, a rate that isn't sustainable. Just slipping back to his 2009 mark of 18% - in itself very high - would cost him at least 10 homers. Reynolds walks a line, and in 2009 he caught the good end of variance and had as great a season as a player of this ilk can have. The threat of a collapse is real, and I mean to a .210 average, 20 homers and five steals. The upside isn't nearly worth the possibility that this player, being overdrafted everywhere, falls apart.

The Fulcrum: The Diamondbacks' lost 2009 season can be traced to the absence of Brandon Webb, who injured his right shoulder in his first start and never pitched again. The D'backs didn't have the rotation depth to fade that loss, and they don't have it this year. There's a significant drop-off after Dan Haren, and absolute train wreck after Edwin Jackson. If Webb doesn't return and everyone moves up a slot, the Diamondbacks could once again finish behind the Padres, and may have to start all over again.

Webb's comeback has happened in fits and starts, with the pitcher regressing from working off a mound to throwing long toss in the first weeks of spring training, and he's yet to throw in a game. At this point, he's likely to start the season on the DL. Think back to last year, when he was supposed to miss “starts” then it became “weeks,” “months' and finally “the season.” Creeping disability is hell on a fantasy player's ulcers, so make Webb Josh Byrnes' problem, not yours. The most likely scenario here is a partial season at partial effectiveness, making Webb a marginal play in mixed leagues.

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